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Kremlin steps up its 4-year assault on Baltic dissidents

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Moving faster than expected, the Kremlin has intensified its drive against sensitive Baltic nationalism by putting on trial two well-known dissidents in the Republic of Estonia.

The trials, set to open Jan. 5 in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, continue a four-year assault by Soviet authorities on all kinds of dissent in this country -- an assault that has resulted in the arrest, trial, jailing, internal exile, or forced emigration of more than 450 dissidents of all kinds, whether advocating human rights or nationalism or religion.

The crackdown represents the Kremlin's answer to the hopes raised by the Helsinki Final Act of August 1975. The act provided a platform for dissident activity. Today, dissidence continues, but both individual dissidents and their spokesmen have been dealt heavy blows.

On trial now are biologist and language teacher Mart Niklus, who capped two decades of dissident protest by signing a "Baltic appeal" for independence from Moscow in August 1979, and scientist Juri Kukk, who was a member of the Communist Party for 12 years but resigned after comparing Soviet life with conditions in France, where he spent a year in the mid-1970s.

Mr. Niklus's parents (he is unmarried), Mr. Kukk's wife, and others in Tallinn and the university city of Tartu, where both men live, had expected trials to come in about a month from now.

They are surprised at the speed with which they are being held.The two men are being tried together, this newspaper has been told, but on different charges. Both are weak from prolonged hunger strikes.

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